Make no mistake about it, Wednesday’s vote was a loss for the Prime Minister. In the spirit of the World Cup, the simple analogy is that the ball is being kicked around the field, the attacking team is in possession, but the ball is still stuck in the attacking team’s half of the pitch. No closer to securing a result or reaching any deal which won’t damage countless sectors in the UK, the only title Theresa May is heading for is Captain of the Great Brexit calamity.
The passing of the EU Withdrawal Bill has shown again just who controls the future of the country. The renegade Hard Brexiters in the Cabinet aren’t on the bench, they are dominating mid-field. Any hollow celebration held in Downing Street will hardly have registered compared to the conniving joy and euphoria shown by Jacob Rees-Mogg and the European Research Group, confident in their belief that the hardest of Brexits, without access to the Single Market or Customs Union, is in sight.
Yet at the same time we must be honest, Wednesday’s vote was a loss for Parliament too. Wednesday, too many decent Parliamentarians blinked first and conceded, when Parliament was inches away from seizing control of the game. Dominic Grieve and his allies missed an open goal, as I and other opposition MPs watched with bated breath. To say I was disappointed would be an understatement, but all opponents of a hard Brexit must know this was not a lost match and a strong message has still been sent to the Prime Minister that decent MPs, representing the 48%, all of those who voted leave and now regret their decision or did not vote at all, but now wish they had, will not be taken for granted.
And every MP must know what is at stake if the hard Brexiters get their way. As communities up and down the country wake up to economic carnage four times greater than that which the country experienced after the banking crisis of 2008, what arguments will MPs be able to muster to prove it was all worth it? We will be less secure, as access to vital security databases is restricted or at best delayed or more cumbersome. Our country will have lost all credibility, having alienated our allies and chosen a path which only those who seek to weaken and diminish us desired. And, arguably the impact which will leave the deepest scars, is a more divided society. Brexit has unleashed such vitriol and tempestuousness between people that the anger each side has shown is unlikely to be settled by any fudged Brexit agreement and will only be inflamed further by careering over a ‘No Deal’ cliff.
MPs who stay silent, failing to take a stand for a meaningful vote to fight for a better future will have abandoned their judgement, judgement which for many, including the Prime Minister, led them to campaign for Remain.
Any argument that MPs must blindly follow the ‘will of the people’ as expressed on one day, two years ago, and slavishly and unthinkingly deliver on our Government’s interpretation of Brexit, is one constructed in a chocolate teapot filled with the fudge that has been spouted by the Leader of the Opposition and the Prime Minister.
MPs aren’t elected to follow blindly a course which is known now to cause serious harm. We can and should be willing to test the ‘will of the people’ again.
The Brexit people voted for is a distant dream. The backdrop is now far bleeker. All MPs opposing a hard Brexit must wake up to the truth, and know that we still can, through giving power to the people and a final say on the deal, prevent the cataclysm which the hard Brexiters crave. Failing to offer the people a way out of economic armageddon would be an unforgivable dereliction of duty.
Tom Brake is the Lib Dem MP for Carshalton and Wallington, and the party’s Brexit spokesman